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Challenging Paternity

Determining the father of a child is very important. Paternity determines who must support the child, who may have a hand in the child’s upbringing, and the child's right to shelter and aid. Once paternity is legally established, the mother and child are also granted access to the father’s medical history and genetic information in order to learn of any medical problems the child may inherit. A suit to challenge paternity doesn't always mean it is initiated by the mother. Sometimes, a court or medical professional names the wrong person as the father of a child, or lab tests can provide erroneous results. In those cases, either parent may file a suit challenging paternity.

Grounds for Challenging Paternity

Many paternity proceedings rely on medical evidence to show who the father is. Usually these tests are accurate, but sometimes they produce erroneous results. The following are grounds for challenging a prior finding of paternity:

  • Tainted lab results (e.g., evidence of prior errors in lab results and routinely substandard work)

  • Fraudulent lab results (e.g., evidence that the opposing party sent someone else to take the lab test on his behalf)

  • Proof of infertility or sterility

  • Proof that test results were tampered with

  • Proof of the mother’s infidelity in marriage – When a child is born into a marriage, the husband is presumed to be the father unless proven otherwise.

How to Challenge Paternity

A suit to challenge paternity is very similar to one establishing paternity. Each state has a slightly different way of starting a lawsuit, so check with a local family law attorney or with your state’s family law courts to find out exactly how to begin. Some states will take into consideration how many years have passed with a child believing a certain man is his or her father, and make disproving paternity more difficult because of the emotional and psychological effects it may have on the child.

Usually, the first step is to file a complaint with the court. Once the complaint is filed, the court may order one or more DNA tests for the father and the child, and seek evidence from other sources to determine the actual father. This other evidence may include medical documents discrediting paternity or if the true father decides to voluntarily acknowledge paternity. Blood tests may also be used to help determine whether the alleged father is biologically related to the child, but blood tests alone don't determine who the father actually is. However, DNA tests are the most accurate way of determining paternity. At the end of the process, the court will issue an order naming the father. The parents must then meet to determine child support and custody arrangements.

Need Help?

Dealing with paternity issues can be very mentally draining. It's important for all adult parties involved to proceed with testing so that the child's rights aren't neglected. If you're dealing with paternity issues or want to establish or challenge paternity, see FindLaw’s sections on paternity and child custody for more information.

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